Director: John Berardo
Cast: Jon Huertas, Isabella Gomez, Lindsay LaVanchy, Froy Gutierrez
Runtime: 1 hr 37 mins
Rating: M18 (Violence & Sexual Scene)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 30 September 2021
Synopsis: Teen horror is back with a vengeance in this edgy slasher about a cruel social media game that spins out of control. Whiton University unravels the night a star-athlete is murdered in the wake of a hidden assault allegation, kicking off a spree of social media linked slayings. As a masked killer targets students across campus, a trio of sorority sisters race to uncover the truth behind the school’s hidden secrets – and the horrifying meaning of an exclamation point – before they become the killer’s next victims.
At first glance, ‘Initiation’ may seem like your typical college slasher movie, and indeed the first half hour comes off very much like that. So we must say we were pleasantly surprised when it revealed that it had much more on its mind, proving in fact to be especially relevant in today’s #MeToo era, notwithstanding how the movement itself has somewhat gotten out of hand.
As its title suggests, the movie begins with a freshman initiation joint frat/sorority party at the fictional Whiton University, where amidst the usual boozy excesses, a sorority girl Kylie (Isabelle Gomez) passes out in a boy’s room and believes that she might have been sexually assaulted. The accusation is particularly troubling to her sorority president Ellery (Lindsay LaVanchy), as one of the dudes involved could be her very own brother Wes (Froy Gutierrez).
Notwithstanding that Kylie is hesitant to file charges, Ellery decides to investigate on her own, especially given how Wes had previously been accused of similar crimes a year ago. But before she can complete the DNA sequencing of whatever specimen she can find on Kylie’s clothes, Wes is found impaled in the very frat house. His murder stuns the entire campus, given how he was a star athlete who was training to compete in the Olympics.
Wes’ murder draws in the other supporting characters, including the university chancellor Van Horn (Lochlyn Munro), his other frat buddies Beau (Gattlin Griffith) and Dylan (James Berardo), and officers Sandra Fitzgerald (Yancy Butler) and Rico Martinez (Jon Huertas). Each of these characters will be connected to the murder in one way or another; and as the plotting unfolds, it becomes clearer that the killings (yes, there will be more than one by the time the murderer is revealed) are motivated by something much more fundamental than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
To say more would spoil the surprise at the end of a tense final act, but let’s just say that while the film does not exactly have the finesse to turn itself into sharp social commentary, it does leave its audience thinking hard about the instances where we as a society or as institutions fail to protect those who have trusted us to do so. Yes, more so than the impaling or even the guttings, it is its empathy with those whom we have failed that cuts the deepest.
There should be no illusion that ‘Initiation’ is a low-budget horror thriller, but given what he had to work with, it is pleasantly surprising that director and co-writer John Berardo has delivered a topical film with a lot more on its mind than the typical college slasher. It won’t be counted a classic by any measure, but those in the mood for some genre diversion will find an incisive, thoughtful slice of entertainment perfectly suited for the current milieu.
(Smarter than the average college slasher horror-thriller, this low-budget genre piece taps into the social milieu to provide some thought-provoking lessons on campus sexual politics)
Review by Gabriel Chong